Monthly Archives: June 2015

Three on Race and Charleston

Three great pieces of analysis on Charleston and race, incidentally all by women *fist bump* What unites them all, for me, is the blunt honesty therein. And how each of them speak to this situation but also wider, into the present, the past and the everyday.

ONE The Cost of White Comfort by Chenjerai Kumanyika . A very honest reflection from Chenjerai on how the work of healing post-Charleston is more vexed than it might first appear. I feel that she also speaks to a wider, universal truth about Black minority survival – something that’s articulated in lesser degrees in smaller, more mundane interactions – and one that’s as applicable to the UK as the US.

“Survival for black folk during slavery, Jim Crow and well beyond necessitated thousands of small demonstrations of pleasant compliance toward white people. This didn’t just mean crossing the street when a white person approached; it meant keeping your eyes down while you did it. It didn’t just mean stepping off the curb for a white person; it meant smiling as you did it.

Today, it means that when I discuss these shootings with my white students and my heart is bursting at the seams with outrage and grief, I must keep my voice and gestures gentle and calm and validate my students’ most hurtful comments so they don’t feel personally indicted.

And it means not just acquiescing to unwarranted police interrogation and arrest. It means being friendly, even gracious, throughout the ordeal. Black survival has so often depended on white comfort.”

TWO I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore by Chloe Angyal. A hardhitting analysis of how the concept of White women’s purity is often marshalled as an excuse for racist violence to be perpetrated on Black men and women. And a good reminder that Black women are so often the bottom of the proverbial pile when conceptualising womanhood in this way. This has been said time and again by Black feminists, and this timely intervention by an ally is welcome.

“[the attack at Emanuel AME] was also the latest in an unbearably long line of lethality meted out in the name of white womanhood—in my name, and maybe in yours. In the name of my purity and virtue and perfect femininity. We must not ignore the role of white womanhood in this act of white supremacist violence, or in any other. We must not find a way, yet again, of avoiding talking about whiteness. And until white women decide that we will no longer be used as an excuse for violence, until we decide that we will no longer tacitly condone and benefit from the violence, we will continue to have blood on our pale, “perfect” hands.”

THREE Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof by Roxane Gay. I love Roxane Gay long time. Her book, Bad Feminist is up there as one of my favourite feminist reads. This article, with excerpts from a longer interview, is thought provoking. While not detracting from the right of the families and church community in Charleston to offer forigiveness, she explains why she can’t. I admire the families for their grace, and I can only hope and pray that I would have the courage to do the same in their position. So, in that sense, I disagree with Gay, however, what she speaks to is a more political forgiveness, or how Black people’s forgiveness is used to move the conversation along and forego any deeper analysis of events like this. On that I absolutely agree with her. Forgiveness must not excuse us from the hard work of excavating this attack and the White supremacist system feeding it – it’s beyond just one man. Furthermore, the onus is not on the minority to make the majority feel comfortable (it ties back quite neatly to Chenjerai’s piece in this regard).

“In the bail bond hearing, the judge was talking about how there are two sets of victims: the families of the nine slain and then Dylan Roof’s family. And I was stunned because he spent more time talking about Roof’s family and what they must be going through. And that really, for me, exemplified the power of whiteness. And we’ve also seen a lot of this expectation that as black people, ‘OK, we forgive this so that we can move on, so that we can heal.’ But I don’t think that it’s our job to forgive anymore. I think that it’s time for reconciliation on the part of people who enable this kind of racism.”

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Shut up and Dance with me

A little whimsy. A mash-up of some great movie dances. (I said I have writer’s block, not that I’ve lost my sense of humour)

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The Wetsuitman

This moving article was tweeted by Migrant Voice today. It’s not just an intricate, heartbreaking story, but it’s also beautifully presented. The Wetsuitman – Dagbladet.

Last winter two bodies were found in Norway and the Netherlands. They were wearing identical wetsuits. The police in three countries were involved in the case, but never managed to identify them. This is the story of who they were.

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Reading through Writer’s block

I am in a bit of a rut, to be honest. I was heartened to read that writers as accomplished as Musa Okwonga find themselves in this space too. I loved his post on how it can be a good thing. He mentions allowing your creative well to replenish. The thing I’m struggling with is that there is so much going on, so much to say, that I’m almost struck dumb in the face of it. And these are heavy things, knotty things. Like Charleston.

So, I’m reading. I’ll post the links to some great articles below:

Why Charleston was not a Hate Crime – Media Diversified.

Take Down the Confederate Flag Now – TaNehisi Coates in The Atlantic

The Connection between Dylann Roof and white-supremacist regimes in Africa runs through the heart of US conservatism– Africa is a Country.

How Rachel Dolezal overshadowed the story of Arnesha Bowers – Identities.Mic

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In Praise of Alias

EydThh2AG5A.market_maxresI’m rewatching Series 1 of Alias. I remember loving this when it first came out in the….90s? *frantically googles* No – it was 2001, according to the good people of Wikipedia.

I’m struck by how it stands the test of time. Strong, well-rounded female characters, tight storylines (at least in the beginning) and a strong supporting cast with black characters that aren’t expendable or one-dimensional.

And the outfit changes! The wigs! The running down corridors!

JJ Abrams at his best. Plus a great cameo from the inimitable Gina Torres, one of my top 5 talent girl crushes (and since you ask, the other four are Serena Williams, Angela Bassett, Sanaa Lathan and Aisha Tyler).

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How to get respect should you die in the public eye

Always on the lookout for new poetry. This, by Musa Okwonga, is sharp: How to Get Respect Should You Die in the Public Eye.

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I Did It

I’m a big fan of Denise Graveline, who runs a series of public speaking workshops called The Eloquent Woman. She also has an excellent blog by the same name, and one of the most recent posts was about my experience of doing the TEDx talk. I had actually attended her workshop “How to give a TED-style talk” and thought, oh, this is going to be useful for something, sometime.

Then, I was asked.

I’m so glad that I was.

It is definitely one of the highlights of my year.

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A Clown Car of Lies

I’m sure I’ve referenced this before. In one of my favourite shows, The League (about a group of friends and their fantasy American football team), the most acerbic characters, Ruxin, accuses his friends of rigging the draft and trying to dupe him. They have, but they know the only thing they can do is deny, deny, deny.

“Fine,” he says, “pile into your clown car of lies because you are all going down!”

I haven’t written about the election aftermath because I’ve been so gutted, disappointed, dismayed, alarmed….and speechless. Since the exit poll. I’ve read so many articles (from Chuka Umunna’s breathless “This is why we lost” before Cameron had even visited the Queen I think), so much research (more and more ethnic minorities breaking for the Tories. Turkeys, Christmas, IMO – and I’m sticking to that – though that doesn’t necessarily mean Labour were/are offering…well…anything worth voting for either really) and so many anguished/hysterical/bitter posts from lefties. Oh yeah, and some smug tweets from righties, though I think they’re entitled to that.

I won’t add to much of what’s already been said except to say that the battle over the Human Rights Act is one of many major battles that we have to win in the next five years. And there will be a lot of lies thrown around. An entire clown car worth of lies that aren’t really worth the paper they’re printed on but really distress me because the stakes are so high.

But the struggle over the HRA is like the election in a microcosm for me. There’s a lot that lefties have to accept, like,

1. It’s not obvious. You’d think that the Tories damaging plans for Human Rights and pretty much *everything else* (I know they won on economic competence but there are £12bn of cuts coming that haven’t even been spelled out and oh yeah, they want to pass a LAW banning themselves from raising income tax so – that’s not gimmicky or insane AT ALL.) Hostage to fortune much? Anyway, my point is, this is obvious to the left but apparently not so much for the rest of the country who will believe the tabloid tub thumping over human rights being for all the bad people (and actually, yeah, because that’s the point – it’s for all of us, even the awful people). This is the same country that looked at Tory scaremongering about Scotland, Europe, immigration and a deficit that has GROWN under the Tories but which is being blamed on Labour (it’s only a global financial crisis when Cameron sees the “warning lights flashing on the dashboard”) and thought… let’s have more of that. So, yeah, human rights needing protection is not obvious to everyone.

2. The narrative on human rights is contested and that doesn’t help with problem number 1. It’s like the deficit. You misdiagnose the problem (who has been a bigger welfare recipient than the banks? Seriously!) and the solutions (so let’s clobber the poor because they’re scroungers) will be wrong too.

3. Right Wing media and Labour failing to mobilise. You can’t blame everything on media conspiracies. To do so implies the public are stupid sheep. They resisted the Daily Mail’s negative “plastic Brits” narratives about naturalised British citizens competing for Britain at the Olympics, for example. But crucially, Labour won’t (can’t?) mobilise to defend HRA, a positive Act that it introduced. As with so many things, Labour is so busy trying to chase UKIP and playing within the Tory frames of reference that it doesn’t know where to step because it hasn’t got its own compass. What does it stand for? No one knows, and soon no one will care unless the party finds its heart.

But civil society is rallying. There is a great campaign by a coalition of organisations to save the Human Rights Act. And the government has backed off for now. We just have to keep the pressure on because no one else is going to. And this is probably where them much-needed rebuilding of solidarity takes place.

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The People’s Republic of Amnesia

”If China is not to perish, then as history tells us, the future holds a tremendous surprise for the murderers. This is not the conclusion of an incident, but a new beginning. Lies written in ink can never disguise facts written in blood. Blood debts must be repaid in kind: the longer the delay, the greater the interest.” -Lu Xun

Before all the madness with the election, I read Louisa Lim’s searing, startling book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia. It’s about Tiananmen Square…and the other, previously unreported crackdown in Chengdu, that was just as brutal. And how the world ignored it.

But it’s about so much more than that. Meticulously researched, based on reams of testimony and official records (where possible), Lim brings the stories of everyone involved – victims, their families, fellow protesters and even the police – to life. It’s a staggering work, a humane and compassionnate project. Just like the many brave Chinese men and women campaigning for the truth about these incidents to be revealed, Lim is intense and passionnate, unwavering in her determination to bring these events to light.